Thursday, 9 May 2013

Future of voice calls?

Having made some suggestions of how OFCOM could tackle number allocation issues I do wonder where things have to end up on voice calls in the long run.

I am seeing a massive reduction in voice calls myself. People call to chat and gossip, but that is moving to facebook. People talk to businesses, but that is moving to web sites. Businesses talk to businesses, but that is moving to B2B systems and echat and so on. I am hard pushed to find a reason to talk to someone on the phone myself. Sometimes I want a chat with a friend or relative which is more face to face but I cannot be there - so I FaceTime them - we used FaceTime to show my parents their new great grandson. Most voice calls I have these days are junk calls ringing me and getting abuse.

So what has to happen to voice - long term?

In my opinion the long term for voice calls has to be that it becomes just another IP based protocol. We already use complex protocols for web pages, email, and much else. Voice can work over IP (VoIP/SIP). What it means is that a physical phone line becomes just a very restricted type of Internet access that only talks voice. The numbering becomes just a matter of DNS and domain names - something you pay for as a way of indexing your contact endpoint just like getting a co.uk domain for a web site.

It does not mean it becomes "free". Like any protocol over IP there are some costs, but many Internet access packages work with a large amount included for a fixed fee. To be honest "voice" is no longer the bandwidth hog (that's video, iPlayer, and so on). I send larger emails than the data in phone calls I make, without a thought, or a bill. As I record all my calls, I also send emails for each call I make/receive as well - it is good that emails don't have similar interconnect settlement fees!

Eventually, the idea of a physical landline that only talks voice protocol to the Internet, and not a general IP access, will seem strange and unnecessary, like faxes and telex. I wonder how long it will take.

The problem is, of course, a huge industry all over the world with a vested interest in considering "voice" to be a special protocol with special regulation, special number allocation controls, special interconnects and lots of money. To telcos the standard idea of "settlement free interconnect points" that are common in Internet terms (like LINX) is an abomination. They will not want this. But ultimately it will happen without them - we see that with iMessage and FaceTime now, traditional SMS and calls that bypass the telco monopolies.

They move with the times or they are left behind.

7 comments:

  1. You should sell a wireless VOIP phone and SIP account bundle to encourage people to port from BT/others to you. In the style of the Home::1 package.

    There must be a good list of benefits like portability, real time call cost tracking. Web based call forwarding with schedule. You could even push notify their mobile when a call comes in.

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    1. Well, yes. We are working on this. The Home::1 does IPv6 and one of the SNOM DECT phones works with this, but we need to set firewall settings. We are also working on a next generation of VoIP server in our network (FireBrick based) that may work with NAT and IPv4 SNOM phones. If that all works we are looking to do SIP as an option on some services, and probably as standard on Office::1 some time as that avoids NAT issues anyway.

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    2. That's very much the setup I'd like to end up using: port my landline number to SIP - possibly delivered over Openreach's Fibre Voice Access product, as part of FTTP using one of the two analogue ports on the ONT - and connect my mobile to SIP too, then get simultaneous ringing on both.

      I can imagine BT creating a whole new world of pain in the process of porting a landline number away to VoIP and converting the landline to a broadband-only service, but the end result would be a nice one!

      BT are already providing VoIP transit through peering points to some extent; I'm not sure I'd trust any carrier which talks about their VoIP traffic traversing the WWW, but on a technical level it should be a big improvement over traditional SS7/TDM interconnect (they still pay you to terminate incoming calls, as for TDM trunks, though I haven't got the pricing details yet). You get access to BT's allocated number blocks for sub-allocation, too ...

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    3. Can't say I have had much problem with multiple phones on SIP behind a NAT. Only problems have been stupid Thomson routers with a SIP ALG that broke things.. and a very quick timeout on UDP sessions? when I had the FB105 doing NAT.

      With almost every other router (or with the ALG turned off) no issues or "fiddling" with config and things have just worked.

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  2. One issue is that to many (most?) people at home, VoIP provides no value whilst being marginally harder to set up.

    To start with, the "no value" bit: you need a POTS line to get ADSL; ok so you can get a POTS line with no dial tone but this is generally no cheaper than a full POTS line you can make calls on. So you don't save anything on line rental here. BT basically do free evening and weekend calls for everyone (there always seems to be some special offer on that means you get that package for free instead of paying for it) - no VoIP<->PSTN gateway can match "free", so again, no saving (in fact, VoIP costs more here).

    And the "harder to set up" bit: you actually have to configure your phone (even if this is just sticking a user name and password in) - under POTS you'd just go to the shop, buy a phone, then plug it into your master socket or one of the extension sockets that you probably already have installed. If you want a wired VoIP phone then you probably need a new cat5 cable run, but obviously wifi phones are fine. Hell, a major stumbling block is probably that you actually have to go buy new equipment instead of just reuse your old stuff - there's a lot of inertia there unless there's some big motivating factor to switch.

    There are certainly a few advantages for VoIP though:
    - International calls can often be had at a cheaper price... but most people aren't making lots of international calls.
    - Multiple calls at once... that might be worthwhile for families, although its not a well advertised feature of VoIP (if you can consider VoIP to be well advertised at all); and these days the teenage daughter is probably facebooking or using her mobile instead of tieing up the main house phone.
    - "Roaming"... I certainly find it very useful to be able to pick up calls wherever I am; my main phone number automatically rings a wifi phone, my mobile (running sipdroid), my Grandstream office phone and a Grandstream phone at my fiancée's - very useful, we can pick up "land line" calls at any of our usual locations. My business line phones both myself and my business partner at the same time, even though we're in different offices.
    - Of course, VoIP to VoIP calls are free - very useful when talking to my business partner during the day. But for most people, they probably don't have anyone to talk to who uses "standard" internet telephony (i.e. SIP) instead of the big mix of proprietary incompatible stuff such as FaceTime, Skype, etc.

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    1. Its not such a big deal, I got a linksys PAP2 through Ebay it cost me 20quid and it support 2 phones at once (2 lines) I run a 2 line cordless base station on it (which I already had) and it works perfectly.

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  3. Already half my voice calls are made on skype including calls to work when I'm working from home.
    And I talk to friends using "mumble" too.
    I use normal phone calls to talk to my parents, and to call businesses who don't offer email or skype. That's about all now.

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